Pre-production is the huge umbrella under which all studio preparations live under. This involves any work that needs to be done before the actual full-scale production begins.
There are so many tasks to complete to get ready for your recording session, but sometimes it’s unclear what those should be. There are some tasks you should put at the top of the list to make the session as productive and comfortable as possible.
Keep in mind this is not a post about what gear you should buy or how to get any specific tones for the studio.
I understand there is so much more to include in preparing a band for the studio but this isn’t intended to be a technical conversation.
The goal for you as an artist is to get into the studio feeling comfortable AND staying that way throughout the session while keeping the creative space positive.
The intent of this post is to provide focus without overwhelming you.
Keep the following in mind as you near your session date and your only worry that day will be getting there on time.
1. Know the parts, understand everyone else’s
You’ve heard it before, “know all your parts because they will be under the microscope.”
What you don’t hear as often is you should consider knowing what everyone else will be playing.
I’m not saying you should be able to play their part, but understanding it will help you make decisions in relation to what the others are playing.
As a group, take the time to solidify song tempos, structure, and even harmonies.
Individually, a guitarist may focus on rhythms/leads and phrasing.
A vocalist might use this time to finalize melodies and consider its backing harmonies.
A drummer might dissect and plan drum fills to best-fit breaks or transitions.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten into a studio with my own bands, only to realize much of drum and vocal parts had been mostly improvised during rehearsal.
Those of you in a setting that requires improvisation, like jazz, I know you might think this is just oh so structured, but hear me out. The understanding of form is essential to the performance and the style of the song informs you of the vocabulary needed to get through it with fluidity.
It’s true, some of the best ideas happen during the session but having everyone be on the same page will keep the discussions that follow simple and productive.
2. Make a demo to create a map for everyone involved
For some, this step is after ‘know the parts’, but for others, it’s the, sometimes painful, step that only proves they should ‘know the parts’.
I know that may sound harsh but there are benefits to both.
In the first approach, making a demo after knowing your parts, you have created an aural map with a direct route to the finish line for yourself and your engineer. Sometimes it’s so good, it could be tough to know which is the demo and which is the actual released version.
In the second approach, making a demo before knowing your parts, you create an aural map with many routes to choose from.
Some roads are closed, some you know need exploring, and others you know to steer away from.
Whatever stage you’re in, creating a demo will help narrow the focus of your efforts when your recording session comes around. It will inherently save you time in the studio and will allow you the time to zone in on the finer details.
3. Get your equipment ready to be under the microscope
You are bringing your instruments into an environment they may not spend too much time in. They need to look good, sound, good, feel good.
Treat ’em right!
As you attend to your instruments, this will be a good time to double check how comfortable you are with your gear.
If you don’t like the sound of something in your gear set-up due to personal preference or damage to the gear, please know you will especially not like the way it sounds in the studio.
Take the extra time to dial in something you are absolutely loving.
If it still doesn’t do it for you, have a conversation with your engineer about what you are looking for. Often, the studio will have some options for you.
This will ultimately save you time in the studio, and we all know, every minute is precious.
But real #1, don’t forget the snacks
This sounds like the least important point BUT it is in fact number one.
Okay, each point is number one but this is huge, though.
Imagine going somewhere, likely for the first time.
You might not know what food is nearby or how long take-out might be. You may not even know when you will have a break, but you know for sure you will need to stay focused…
I literally just described you going into your recording session.
This is what really happens but no one talks enough about this!
Some attitudes totally take a 180 when fuel runs low. I swear to you, I’m not just saying this because I’m a Californian, but it can mess with the vibe.
Your delicate and easily influenced energy can, and will be removed from the zone your in, leading to more takes – adding more time on to the hangry clock!
Its a vicious feedback loop (eh heh heh).
In all seriousness, making sure you are in the right headspace when going into the studio to dissect your art should not be taken lightly.
On the day of your session, get your sleep, wake up early, have breakfast with your team, thank each other for their role in this endeavor, and prepare to create something you will remember for the rest of your life.
Just please, do not forget the snacks.